“There is no alternative”.
– Margaret Thatcher (ad nauseum)
“There is only a heart-shaped hole filled with cold indifference where India’s public heart should be.”
– Arundhati Roy (April 2021)
There has been discussion lately regarding definitions of the word “infrastructure”. Tons of money, supported by all its power relations, working to extend the practical and ideological hegemony of racial capitalism’s corporate and other basic power systems, drive the definitional polemics.
First let’s go behind the definitions to reality, and return later to humbly offer words that may hopefully be adequate to our real challenges. We face transformational post-pandemic & economic depression imperatives for:
- public health;
- sustainable economic activities;
- political democracy;
- racial reconciliation;
- social equity;
- commons-based transformation of property conceptions; and
- eco-socialist restructuring of policy and infrastructure – a “Red, Black and Green New Deal” for our era of climate-related chaos – indeed, for survival itself.
The corporate media’s tempest-in-teacup “infrastructure” debate coincides with new explosions of novel coronavirus infections & death, concentrated in huge, populous developing countries like India, Brazil & Turkey, governed by Rump soul brothers Modi, Bolsonaro & Erdogan. The dialectical contradictions & dynamics of capitalism have only occasionally been more horrifyingly complex or deadly. It takes an Arundhati Roy to speak truthfully and powerfully about the hatred and greed of the public heart that has enabled such monsters.
When the powers-that-think-they-be noisily discuss meanings of big words like “infrastructure” at times of deep structural crisis like these, it’s worth the time to unpack & overstand the systemic power relations in play. What must be done in this awful historical backwash of viral death and racial capitalist crisis? What’s really going on here in the first place? Who decides? Who benefits? Who pays? What do we do now to use the proverbial seat-at-the-table provisionally gained in 2020, led by figures like Stacey Abrams and Project South (to name only 2), the space won by the Movement for Black Lives in confluence with global justice movements, and whatever else we’ve got to create the very “movement which abolishes the present state of things” that Peter Linebaugh names “the real movement.” Stay with reality, call things by their real names, and turn the pre-existing normal conditions upside down.
Putting Definitions in Front of Reality
Neo-Marxians might call the obsession with politicizing the definitions of words for important public concepts “fetishizing” things. I don’t know. I do know that I’ve had bullshit corporate and neoliberal apologetics for racial capitalism up to here, I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore. We face a virally mutated & intensified version of what David Harvey sharply defined in 2006 as “a generalized crisis of capital accumulation coupled with a serious challenge to capitalist class power”. The federal government’s taxation and spending policies, and the ideological wars (with definitional consequences) to decide who lives and dies in massive historical crises like these, aren’t really decided by definitions. They’re decided by power.
Before returning to “infrastructure” as the source of a few trillion dollars in corporate pork, hyperbolic rhetoric & misleading partisan lies, let’s define a few other concepts that either escape the attention of dominant corporate media entirely, or more likely are ignored and intentionally obscured in their carefully framed non-debates, curated by racial capital, about things like the meaning of “infrastructure”.
Under capitalist social relations, the Commons is defined in the public mind – if it’s acknowledged at all – as a historical artifact of pre-industrial land tenure in the British Isles before the mid-19th century. Conceptually, this separates one particularly clear example (what the environmental justice movement today calls a “frontline community”) of the core dynamic of racial capitalism – brutal, extractive, predatory & otherizing exploitation – from the same underlying structural dynamics of the system itself that screw us today. Pay attention to this trick! They try to pull it all the time.
In the larger, definitional sense, the Commons is our common infrastructure, what one corporate media expert defined as “key economic assets that support and enable economic activity”, to the extent that an effective legal and customary property policy regime can be conceived and implemented to govern them that serves the greatest good for the greatest number, from each according to our ability and to each according to our needs. If somebody thinks applying the word “infrastructure” to child care is vague, the Commons will really blow their mind!
What’s really at stake is the end of racial capitalism and transformation of our social systems for the project of pursuing & implementing the above transformational imperatives needed for our very survival. It’s not about subjective Republican or Democratic party conceptions of “infrastructure” (e.g., the engineered environment vs. caring for our fellow humans and the earth), merits of Biden’s new administration, or even robust recovery from the pandemic. Moving from labels to substance will require us to have these grown-up conversations!
A process, not a thing. A total social system based on surplus value extraction (“Profit”). The invisible hand of “The Market”, that somehow mysteriously identifies and serves the interests of the Ethnic Rich .001% guaranteed every time. The value that grows exponentially, dynamically & dialectically by exploiting labor power & nature. The Thing (along with “Class”) That Must Not Be Named in liberal corporate media. Traded for commodities, notably labor power and gifts of nature, to grow more capital. Property in use to get more, ad infinitum, until it kills us all.
Religious liberty in the new US Supreme Court to dominate a fractious 21st century majority People of Color nation. The right to steal (“Property”) & exploit because of whatever class Property Rights – whiteness, discovery, contract, corporate personhood & conglomeration, emergency management, qualified immunity, MAGA, whatever fetishes of class domination, profit & power they come up with next – their courts & other class power institutions decree & enforce.
Marginalization & erasure of human rights as binding universal ethical criteria for human dignity. Creation of abstract definitional monsters like “Illegal Immigrants”, “Super Predators”, “Islamo-fascists” & other ideological spawn of corrupt, racist propaganda & fake news patterned on the forged Protocols of the Elders of Zion, bogus American Manifest Destiny narratives, racist-pseudo-science and all their associated imperial/patriarchal intellectual garbage, repurposed for the 21st century’s pending neo-fascist assaults.
The primary target of such assaults. We are rediscovering, redefining & repurposing what it means to be a “Human Being” for revolutionary transformation & survival. Creatures who can empathize with others, whose private and public hearts beat to the time of social justice & the beloved community. Who relentlessly take direct action. That we forgot this about 50 years ago goes a long way toward explaining the mess we’re in.
Politics & Direct Action
There is direct conflict today between demands of economic production, social reproduction and profit under capitalist social relations. No definitional histrionics will solve this. Alternatives to our clusterfuck nation are the most valuable tools & weapons in our commons infrastructure bank. The relative obscurity, even invisibility of capital’s “normal” surplus-value-generation-by-exploitation, the pathetic shallowness of liberal ideas about power & the earnest but meaningless praxis of US corporate media are all on vivid display in this ongoing “debate” over the meaning of “infrastructure” in the context of the collapse of a modern industrial social system. The only ones whose ‘needs’ are being met – “the 1%” – are almost never mentioned in respectable company & elite discourse, squeezed out of the frame by elaborately coded rituals of praise for Whiteness & the Almighty Dollar. We change that, and the meaning of “infrastructure” will take care of itself. Then we reallocate more resources to support quality of life, human dignity & rights for working People. Transformation, not normality, must be our watchword.
Infrastructure Beyond the Biden/Capital Agenda
Part of our infrastructure is the rules, institutions, norms, habits of mind, social customs and other features of a world ruled by laws & democratic norms, not by insane fools like Rump, Bolsonaro & Modi. Reform of the federal courts and administrative agency laws, especially restoring balance in First Amendment free exercise cases (so-called “religious freedom” among a scary cohort of 5 holy-rolling associate supreme court justices), and the whole, practically infinite range of anti-democratic and exploitative corporate power.
Part of our infrastructure is the guidelines, techniques, technology, outputs & opportunities of a profoundly sick, overheating economy that serves the rich, not the rest of us. Subject the economy to adequately robust public interest regulation in every critical respect, including replacing corporate monopolies with public utilities serving the public interest, under democratic control.
Part of our infrastructure is our effective and consistent respect for ourselves and each other. Comprehensively restore human and civil rights, serving the commons, democracy-as-driver-of-policy, food sovereignty, agroecology, alternative energy transformations, environmental and water justice, and public health (these are all interconnected and have to be transformed together). If we’re going to have to define “infrastructure” in order to survive racial capital’s latest genocidal abuses, let’s do it on our terms.
Part of our infrastructure is our ideas, and how they apply to our material interests & realities. This is the stuff that’s really outmoded! Infuse intellectually & tactically bankrupt 21st century US liberalism with radical, revolutionary strategic action that truly meets the challenges of these times! Forget “normal”. This is the time for Revolution.
You get the idea. Act on it.
“The public has a genuine but brief window over the next few months to make America a fairer, more just and more humane place. If people recognize that, seize that and demand that, they could reshape this country for decades.” – Rachel Cohen The Coronavirus Made the Radical Possible ↑